Thursday, April 16, 2009

A long overdue look back and a timely look ahead: BYU's recent wins and the Sweet 16

I know, I know... I'm backtracking here. I shirked my responsibility to give a recap of the BYU Rugby team's most recent dominance over the course of the last weekend in March. Much was happening for me at the time, so please accept my apologies for not sharing these highlights and thoughts sooner...

Of course, with the Sweet 16 upon us next weekend, I now wish to use these critiques as a sort of springboard into my expectations, hopes, worries, and etc. for BYU's first tournament match against Dartmouth and potential, subsequent matches. So hang on; this deluge of spontaneity may very well result in my longest post to date!

Here goes, folks...

Just in case you have been living under a rock the past little while or just need to hear it again, the March 28, ESPNU National Guard "Game of the Week" resulted in BYU walking away victorious once again, 66-20, over then #4-ranked rival, Utah. The deed was done before a 'more-than-sell-out' (i.e. the stands only hold about 2,400) crowd of some 3,000+ people. At halftime, BYU Rugby alumni took to the field and received a round of applause in honor of their support of the program throughout the years. After game's end, flyhalf Dylan Lubbe was recognized as the "Minute Man of the Match" with a trophy presented by National Guard representatives. In spite of the cold weather, the evening on the whole was truly momentous, a great milestone reached for the BYU Men's Rugby program and a flicker of future potential waiting to be expanded.

The following evening, BYU again graced the television spotlight, this time in the nation's first-ever, live college rugby broadcast made available through BYU-TV. Although the 'victim of the night', Utah State, eventually managed to get on the board with a penalty kick, BYU's relentless offense and defense didn't allow any real room for hope, racking up a massive 111-3 win. What's more, BYU's score might have been even greater had the referee not stopped the match with 10+ minutes left on the clock. Bottom line: BYU dominated on all sides, no matter whom they put on the field. Freshman winger/fullback Jordan Lowry was capped "Man of the Match" after recording a hat trick of tries. All in all, it was a fun game to watch and surely a rewarding final home game in which to play, especially for the seniors.

BYU showed great depth and potency on offense, with several players scoring (many of them, secondary)... There's no doubt that this year's team is much deeper than last year's, especially with the great stock of freshman talent that has performed quite well. Nevertheless, I don't wish to dwell on a match that obviously did not present Our boys with a true test...

Instead, let's take a look at the somewhat more competitive, BYU vs. Utah game and its implications for BYU's National Title hopes...

For starters, I have to admit that I felt somewhat disappointed with BYU's level of play. Yes, it was a cold night, literally, but the team really looked 'cold' emotionally as well. I really thought all the players would be completely fired up. I thought they would be overcome with excitement to play in a televised match in front of a massive crowd. And if nothing at all, I thought they would be pumped to again prove that the rival Utes were no match for them... hmmm...

What did I see instead? I saw a lot of individual efforts that resulted in sloppy play, ridiculous penalties, and momentum-killing decisions... not to mention the called-back tries. Our boys seemed rather complacent out there on the pitch, looking on as one teammate would grab the ball and bowl forward by himself, the rest sluggishly waiting until the defense got the best of him before finally committing to support. Slow start maybe??? I hope that's the only explanation, because I'd go so far as to say that the apathy displayed in the first half was inexcusable and inexplicable... perhaps even juvenile. Let's just say that such unsupported efforts will not go unpunished in tests against more solid teams (e.g. Cal with their infamous ability to quickly poach the ball from rucks).

At least the second half was a different story: BYU turned up the energy in the backline to nullify Utah's respectable but insufficient forwards' push. I think Utah realized too late their potential to advance the ball by keeping it in the forwards. Still, their efforts weren't too pretty, and I was actually surprised to see them score as they did...

I sincerely believe that BYU could have won 80-0 if they had played with heart as a TEAM from the 'get go'... Most Utah scoring opportunities were the result of BYU gifts anyway (or penalties, whatever you want to call them). Yes, the game ended well for BYU, but... maintaining control and momentum from the start is a surer bet.

And after all these my critiques, my 'coulda-woulda-shouldas', BYU still won handily by 46 points... just the sound of it almost seems to render my words hollow. But I dare any man on the BYU Rugby team to play with the same apathy in a match against Cal... see if you can do so and still hang on to even a thread of hope for victory...

No, better yet, don't even entertain the thought of doing so (I'm being brutally sarcastic after all); instead, just talk to any of Our boys who have experienced Cal's style of play in past tournaments, and see if they would be willing to support such unsupportiveness... my guess is that they wouldn't. So what's it going to take to be successful? I mean, Cal will lose to BYU... it's only a matter of when... So what then will set this 2009 BYU Rugby team apart as deserving of the National Title?

Just one word: team. That's right, I said, "TEAM"! No one doubts BYU's depth, strength, speed, or skill. Nobody denies their great potential for success in the National Spotlight. But getting over that final hump is going to require a lot more than some highly-talented individuals only coming together at game time, hoping for collective success. No, ultimate success will only come as a result of an emphasis on team first and foremost... i.e., team attitude, team concerns, team weaknesses, team morale, team potential, team strengths, team fitness, team friendship, team support, team leadership, team effort, team synergy, team success... Are you sick of hearing it yet??? GOOD! I'm glad! Because I'm sick of watching a more dynamic, more talented side lose to the same team each year!!!

It's business time, baby! The Sweet 16 is here! You're already going, but it's time for one final tweak... I say, "do whatever it takes to execute as a team." Take Cal's game to them and to everyone! Give them a taste of their own medicine! Don't think you're going to individually break them; instead, tighten up your collective defense, establish your collective offense, and don't give in to the mind games!

You must realize, my friends, that Steve St. Pierre won't win the National Championship... Shaun Davies and Dylan Lubbe won't win the National Championship... Paul Lasike won't win the National Championship...

Only the collective BYU RUGBY TEAM stands a solid chance of taking the National Title for the first time! And all the potential is there... believe it!

Now for those of you readers, if any, who managed to get this far and are still wondering where my great breakdown is for BYU's game plan against Dartmouth or Navy or Arkansas State... well, guess what? I just gave it all to you! BYU has already proved their dominion over the competition throughout this '09 season. By kicking things up that last notch, to solidly execute as a team, BYU will surely have success over their opposition in these first two rounds of championship play. I can't see why they wouldn't...

I recently discussed with my father the distinguishing features of this year's BYU squad over previous years. I cited the BYU vs. Wyoming game (a 73-3 win) as a revealing example of the team's 'new' speed and assertiveness; in that match, it appeared that every BYU player was relentless in attacking both sides of the ball, especially the offensive. In reply to this assessment, my father essentially replied, "So it's as if BYU has 15 backs out on the field?" ... Yeah... Oh yeah!

Finally, I wish to end here by saying something to you... no, not you the players, not you the fans, but you the competition... If you don't believe anything I've written here, then as the song says, "you've got another thing comin'!" Seriously, folks... all through the season I have given BYU's competitors fair and ample consideration (e.g. the above-mentioned); I have even seriously worried over some. And yet, BYU has dismantled these teams, even when not playing to full potential.

Now, though ill-advised these words might be (as given freely to our competition), I would like to offer a few tidbits of counsel. I'm not trying to sound defiant or derogatory to anyone; I simply wish to say that BYU has lived up to their hype this season, and one should not deny the fact. Basically, BYU is fast, aggressive, strong, and dynamic... many players posses skills not inherently bestowed by the American style of rugby. For example, scrumhalf Shaun Davies is not just quick, but often can fake and shed opponents in ways not commonly seen. If you're simply hoping to beat BYU offensively, then you'd better bring
a super, high-powered offense or you won't be able to cut it!

My best advice is, rather, that a solid, unbending defense might be the key to break BYU this year. A team who can manage to stifle their repeated attacks in the first half may stand a chance... Of course, they have to put substantial points on the board in that time as well, because BYU is known for their strong, second-half 'score fests'.

Also of great importance (and something to elaborate on later) is the control of the forward pack. Everyone has had access to footage of the BYU Rugby team in action this season, so I don't think I'm sharing some great secret here: BYU's scrums, line-outs, and mauls (that is, the few even executed this year) haven't been overly dominant as in previous years. They aren't pushovers by any means, but in terms of execution, not the most solid... so here again the opposition has potential for an advantage on BYU if they've got a solid forward unit.

There, no harm done; I'm just honestly hoping to see more real competition in the upcoming Sweet 16 matches than that witnessed in BYU's regular season. I offer my congratulations and good luck wishes to all the teams in the Sweet 16 this weekend; you deserve it, and may the best teams win!

And to all devoted BYU Rugby fans, now's the time to really get crazy! Now's when we really need to show everyone that we believe in our team, that we want a National Title this year!

And to Our boys, we'll be cheering and hoping and praying for your great success! Do us proud and play unselfishly as the team that we know you to be: BYU Rugby Forever!


  1. Its the Super 16s. Sweet 16s are bball not to mention ncaa

  2. "Super 16"? Are you sure??? I've heard of the Super League, Super 12, and Super 14, but never that one...

    Please advise of where you heard that, and thanks anyway for reading my post.

  3. It was a great post. I was just letting you know that USA Rugby is calling this the Super 16 starting last year. It isnt allowed to call it the Sweet 16 since that is NCAA trademarked or whatever. So it is trying to build its own brand names by calling this the Super 16 and the "final 4" the Big 4 instead. Hockey has the Frozen 4 for instance instead of calling it the final 4 too. Not that anyone would know unless they pay super close attention like i do, because USA Rugby kind of sucks at building a brand like that. But still, officially it is the "Super 16". (and yes, it was probably in the spirit of those other supers)

    Good luck to BYU Rugby. I hope for some good games.

  4. Well what do ya know... I stand corrected thanks to yet another anonymous friend!

    Thanks for the comment; I will use "Super 16" in subsequent posts and discussions.

  5. Good post - As someone who has played Cal I know that individual effort against Cal is futile unless it works into the team's game plan. Being a "hero" will only get yourself and your team into trouble. Discipline and heart, thats what is needed


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